From the Sublime to the Ridiculous…

Dear Greeks and Romans,

As you know, we take very seriously our charge to manage “the Best Classics Library in the World” with outstanding book and journal collections and exceptional individual attention to each and every one of you (including sometimes working around bureaucracies that don’t always make sense). Maybe because we work so hard, we try to maintain a sense of humor, sometimes even sarcastic or macabre as our beloved Mike posing as νεκρς. This month we thought you might enjoy the comical gargantuan contrast between book sizes in our library and the many challenges that those sometimes bring for our library spaces and retrieval services, so we asked our “honorary librarian” Angelica to pick a tiny book (by no means the smallest book in our collection!) as December’s “Book of the Month”

Through the photos above and below we are comparing that mini book of the comedies of Roman playwright Terence with two of our more than a thousand giant books, one a facsimile of a medieval codex of Terence’s comedies and the other, a book on the topography and history of Olympia (by no means the largest books in our library!).

Now, we can all understand the usefulness of a very large sized book in order to better examine maps, diagrams, photographs, illuminations, scholia, etc., but what is the point of a miniature book other than its cuteness and curiosity, you might ask?  Well, especially, in the 19th century steam-powered presses mass-produced classical texts printed on inexpensive paper in small sized books to fit in shirt pockets or belt pouches for the consumption of an increasingly literate public. The railroad and steamboat aided their distribution. The small sized texts could also be conveniently perused by itinerant scholars and easily carried by traveling salesmen and studied by school children.

Smaller and more convenient book sizes in the 1800s sometimes aimed at counteracting and combating a waning emphasis on Greek and Latin in schools in Europe and the U.S. during this time, a “movement” eventually leading to such pocket sized books as a “predecessor” to the Teubner texts, also published in Leipzig. Even the volumes in the so called Loeb Classical Library series, although not miniatures, belong in this group since they were much smaller than a regular book in the 19th and early 20th century.  In a little known and, as far as I know, never again reproduced preface to the series appearing in a handful of the 1912 editions, James Loeb himself best explains the purpose of the LCL:

In an age when the Humanities are being neglected more perhaps than at any time since the Middle Ages, and when men’s minds are turning more than ever before to the practical and the material, it does not suffice to make pleas, however eloquent and convincing, for the safeguarding and further enjoyment of our greatest heritage from the past. Means must be found to place these treasures within the reach of all who care for the finer things of life.”

These words could just as well be written today when more and more schools and libraries cut funding for classics and eliminate Latin and Greek from their curricula and collecting priorities. Thumb drives could perhaps serve as the miniature books of the 21st century onto which the classical texts in the Perseus Digital Library or the PHI (though not the TLG) could be downloaded to reach a larger reading audience and attract more students. And with influential cultural icons such as J.K. Rowling and Mark Zuckerberg, who proudly profess their classics training, studying Greek and Latin is becoming cool again!

If you are interested in viewing the miniature book (with a magnifying glass!) and even touching it (!), please come to the Classics Library’s main Reading Room.

To read Angelica’s previous absolutely hilarious Facebook posts, see